It’s often never pretty when a former great hangs on past his expiration date. Jason Peters has defied age and the NFL’s version of natural selection for so long that it wasn’t far-fetched to believe that he would perform adequately in his 38th year.
But the Eagles offensive lineman has never looked as overmatched as he has this season, with his blocking against the Bengals perhaps the nadir of a Hall of Fame 17 years. He has had career obituaries written before. He has had recent early-season struggles before. But Sunday felt different.
It felt like Muhammad Ali vs. Larry Holmes. Mike Schmidt vs. ground balls. Ric Flair vs. Ric Flair. Peters' antagonist wasn’t as formidable as those examples, which only emphasized his decline. Cincinnati’s Carl Lawson is a solid edge rusher, but he ran around, inside, and over the left tackle like he was Lawrence Taylor.
Peters allowed two sacks, but there could have been three or four more had quarterback Carson Wentz not escaped harm. Most alarming was a left-hand stab power move from the 6-foot-2, 265-pound Lawson that turned the 6-4, 300-and-something-pound Peters 180 degrees around before the defensive end wrapped up Wentz.
Peters settled down some in the second half, partly because coach Doug Pederson had schemed him additional help or quicker throws. But when the Eagles needed longer conversions and deeper quarterback drops late, Peters' problems with Lawson returned.
“I thought Jason was doing some nice things,” Pederson said Monday. "There were a couple times he got edged a little bit. I thought overall he played pretty well. And even in the run game, he still plays at a high level and felt good about his performance.
“It wasn’t perfect, but he definitely was in the right spots and doing the right things for us.”
The right spots? That kind of faint praise is usually reserved for rookies.
Peters' problems could be chalked up as an isolated moment against a stylistically difficult matchup. But he was just as overwhelmed by Washington’s Chase Young two weeks ago, and needed a quick-passing game the following week against the Rams to reduce his allowed pressures.
If there had been a silver lining heading into overtime, it was that Peters had played every offensive snap this season. But with a little over a minute remaining, he went down with an unspecified injury. The Eagles were charged a 10-second runoff because they had no more timeouts -- precious time they may have needed -- and Peters left.
“When you’re playing 90-plus snaps and as humid as it was, it was just some fatigue that set in late in the game,” Pederson said Monday. “But he’s going to be fine.”
Peters wasn’t the only player to have conditioning problems. Pederson said that 23-year-old running back Miles Sanders was also dealing with fatigue. But Peters' unavailability has been a long-running story throughout his first 11 years in Philadelphia. It certainly played a role in the Eagles' initial decision to part with him this offseason.
Andre Dillard was the primary reason. The Eagles couldn’t justify sitting their 2019 No. 1 draft pick, even if there were internal doubts about his readiness. But when Brandon Brooks suffered an Achilles tendon rupture in June, general manager Howie Roseman deployed the gestating idea of moving Peters to guard.
That no other team was willing to sign Peters to start at left tackle should have raised concerns. But the Eagles, in recent years, have proven to have too much loyalty with particular franchise favorites.
The move made more sense as a backup plan in case Dillard failed or was injured. The latter occurred in training camp when he suffered a season-ending biceps injury. But the Eagles didn’t break the in-case-of-emergency glass because Peters wanted more money to move to left tackle.
It’s hard to fault a player for using any leverage he may have, but the two-week delay in the restructuring of Peters' contract didn’t help offensive line chemistry as Pederson shuffled his unit. It also didn’t aid Peters, who had spent the previous month focusing on a new position.
Adding to the unsettledness was right tackle Lane Johnson’s recovery from ankle surgery, which caused him to miss the opener. With the inexperienced Jack Driscoll and Nate Herbig on the right side, Wentz would be sacked eight times and the run game would prove ineffective.
The O-line improved the next week with Johnson’s return, but left guard Isaac Seumalo joined the injury list with a knee sprain. Pederson’s update indicated Peters will be ready for Sunday at the 49ers, but the left tackle has long been bound by his own set of rules.
Peters' Eagles legacy has been cemented. He will go down as one of the organization’s greats. Coaches and players have spoken to his unselfishness with helping youngsters for years. His presence in the locker room has been immense.
But he has given up on the team before. By late 2015, he had lost faith in then-coach Chip Kelly. Peters was dealing with a nagging injury, but he kept the Eagles in pre-game limbo over his availability several times. And in some games, he would just pull himself.
There is no reason to think that Peters has the same feelings about Pederson, even if the Eagles' 0-2-1 start suggests a tough road ahead. It’s unlikely the coach would ever bench him for Jordan Mailata or Driscoll. But the early film hasn’t been promising.
It would be nice to know what Peters has to say about his play or the team’s or really anything that has happened since last season. But the Eagles haven’t made him available to reporters, likely because he’s never been a willing interview subject.
It’s possible the public may not hear from Peters again until he’s inducted into Canton in five or so years. It’s hard to count him out, but this finally feels like the beginning of the end, and the time to start to clock on his eventual enshrinement.